20 November, 2006
I was at Gen Con So Cal this past weekend geeking out a bit. Good to get some inspiration from the non-digital side of things.
One of the talks I went to talked about different design philosophies. The panel talked a bit about a newer breed of RPG that has broken away from the ponderous D&D model of RPGs. In these “fast food RPGs” (as Peter Adkison lovingly called them), you focus more on role-playing than on combat simulation; in order words, moving away from the miniatures combat model that D&D originally spawned from.
One such game that I picked is called Cat. In this game, the players play as cats that fights against the unseen (by humans) forces of malice. The game is very simple: characters have few stats and they’re easy to remember (Fangs rates how well you bite in combat and how well you carry things), the book is very small and contains mostly fiction, and the sessions are intended to last only a few hours. A rather interesting game, quite a departure from the days of super-detailed D&D character sheets with the encumbrance rating of each coin calculated.
As one person on the panel said, this rethinking of the paper RPG in this way was similar to when movie makers realized they could move the movie camera and edit the movie.
So, today’s challenge is deep: rethinking the online RPG in a similar way.
One thing that really got me thinking about this was seeing demos of Warhammer Online at the convention. One of the people trying out the game died, and a little box popped up saying, in essence, “You Have Died! But, don’t worry, that’s a normal part of the game.” …what? Why do we keep calling it death when it’s not really death. (Yes, yes, Richard, I’m not the first person to bring this up.) But, doesn’t it seem like we should move away from just calling it death when, really, it’s nothing like death at all? Perhaps we should find another mechanic instead?
Of course, one problem is that we can’t just try to adapt this new breed of RPGs to a online. We chose a D&D-like setting because it’s got lots of crunchy math that makes the computer happy. Some would say that it’s all just spreadsheets. And, we stick to this model because it works so darn well with our primary business model. We have to find our own way to move the camera, so to speak. (Well, you can already move the camera in most games, but that’s not what I’m talking about here! :P)
So, bring your thoughts to the table. How can we take the next step in making online games something better? Or, is there something else we should focus on improving?